Carl Ben Eielson, aviation pioneer

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Carl Ben Eielson earned his wings during World War I with the Army Air Service, became a post-war barnstormer, then headed north to Alaska and began making a name for himself. He flew the mail to remote towns where only dog sleds had gone before, started an airline, became a polar explorer, and made the first flight over the North Pole from Alaska to Norway. He died on a rescue mission in 1929, but his legacy lives on (Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, is named in his honor).

Eielson’s aircraft of choice during his bush pilot days in Alaska was a Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny”, seen here. Weathered and beaten with the faded name “Fairbanks” emblazoned on its olive-drab fuselage, this aircraft (AS 47358) managed to survive and is now on display at Fairbanks Airport in Alaska.

His passenger is Mrs. Ladessa Nordale, wife of Fairbanks newsman Hjalmer Nordale. Mrs. Nordale later became a prominent Alaska judge. One her more interesting cases involved her ruling on whether an automobile constituted a whorehouse. Despite such establishments being illegal, a young lady (of easy virtue) was plying her trade in the back seat of her Cadillac (business must have been good). Judge Nordale ruled the Cadillac was indeed a den of ill-repute and put the motorized entrepreneur out of business. This provided some comedy given that the judge herself drove a Cadillac.

The R.34 comes to America

 

When the British airship R.34 crossed the Atlantic in 1919, she and her crew became instant celebrities. Taking off from Britain on July 2, the crew battled winds, storms, freezing conditions and a rapidly dwindling fuel supply before arriving 108 flying hours later. Hovering over a field in Mineola, NY, the airship discharged its first cargo – Major John Pritchard – who parachuted down in order to organize the landing party below. This was necessary due to the fact there was no one in the United States who had any experience in handling such a craft. As the photos illustrate, obviously Pritchard was successful. He also became the first man to arrive in America by air (and parachute).

The first photo shows R.34 resting after its journey. Scattered and stacked all around are hundreds of hydrogen cylinders to provide gas for the trip home. Why the whole place wasn’t blown to kingdom come is probably a miracle in itself.

Photo #2 is interesting in that the men of the 278th Aero Squadron decided to use the R.34 as a backdrop for their group photo. At this time, the 278th was being disbanded at Mineola, and the arrival of R.34 was obviously inspiring. This is the only explanation because the 278th certainly had nothing whatsoever to do with airships (other than trying to shoot them down, should the opportunity present itself.).

The last photo is an example of how the R.34 compared to the Woolworth Building in New York City. It being, in 1919, the tallest building in the world Woolworth’s was always a handy prop for comparison (ocean liners, airships, etc.).

27th Pursuit Squadron, 1939

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Sporting some rather bizarre camouflage paint schemes, P-36 Hawks of Selfridge Field’s 27th Pursuit do some fancy flying for the camera. Contrary to popular belief, the camo paint was not part of some war game exercise but rather for display – the 1939 National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. In theory, the water-based paint could be easily removed. In practice, that was not quite so: broad areas were washed clean, but the paint adhered itself into every panel seam and rivet head.

Fast forward: In the early 1980s, a pair of A-10s from my base in Alaska were given a water-based “Arctic white” paint job over their normal dark green. Used only for a one week exercise, the white paint was then given a rinse. Same results as in 1939. Every place that was not a smooth flat surface had white paint clinging to it. Every panel, rivet, and screw head was highlighted making for two hideous-looking A-10s. Eyesores that they were, the two aircraft were parked together at the far end of the ramp.

 

Oddball Aircraft

 

 

“General Gilmore & Staff”, 1930

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General Gilmore was Chief of the Air Corp’s Material Division where, naturally, he had a trusty staff to make things easier. That staff included Captains Frank Andrews and Laurence Kuter, and Major Henry Arnold. These men would achieve three, four, and five-star rank in the coming years. All of the men in this photo are wearing mourning bands but I am unable to ascertain who it was that died. The location of the photo is Wright Field, the aircraft, a Curtiss B-2 Condor of the 96th Bomb Squadron.

F-86 meets its fate in Fresno

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Although there was an F-86 squadron at Fresno, Ca. during the 1950’s, this is not one of theirs. The date is July 19, 1958, and this F-86E (51-12994) of the Van Nuys Airport based 195th Fighter Interceptor Squadron has met its fate away from home. Mechanical difficulties brought about this mishap which was sufficient enough to write-off the aircraft.

Air Corps maneuvers, Malone, NY, 1939

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Photos #1 & #2 show a squadron of O-47’s lined up while on maneuvers at the Malone, NY, airfield. A couple of BT-2’s and a B-10 are thrown in for good measure.


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A mass of struts and wires, an O-43 waits beside the less strutted (but less graceful appearing) O-47’s.


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Classy gas truck fills up the beasty O-47’s.


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Lt. Howard Means and crew deplane after a grueling mission over upstate New York.


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O-43 (33-271) gets a few tweaks before darting back in the sky.


Lightning Strikes: F-5’s & P-38’s

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F-5 42-13095 of the 12th Photo Recon Squadron zooms in for landing at its base in Italy. This aircraft carried three names: “Shark” on the nose. “Louise” on the left engine nacelle, “Vera” on the right.


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Two shots of “Anna” landing in Italy. Note the local civilian onlookers.


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F-5 “Hoppy” flares for landing.


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F-5F 44-26045 was transferred to the Chinese Air Force. The same thing happened to the B-24 in the background, 44-42270. Perhaps all of the aircraft pictured were similarly transferred (?)


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P-38J 44-25605 was modified to a personal transport for General George Stratemeyer. Perched in the Plexiglas nose, he had the best seat in the house.


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Early P-38’s. Marvelous aircraft.


B-47 Stratojets in Phoenix

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I do not know what the occasion was, but these bombers are not what one typically finds crowding your city airport (there are at least a dozen B-47’s), in this case, Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Judging by the vehicles at the Avis Rent-A-Car, I would say this slide photo dates from circa 1954. There is a 1962 date stamped in the slide, but I think that is when a copy was made. My evidence: the B-47’s in 1962 wore different markings, and, the rental cars are all early to mid-1950s vintage – a company like Avis would have much newer cars on the lot way before 1962.

The Immortal Jimmy Doolittle

Webp.net-resizeimage (1) - CopyAlready a legend in aviation, on January 23, 1930, Lieutenant Doolittle was in New York as the Air Corps advisor on construction of Floyd Bennett Field. Happily enough, he signed the back of his calling card for an admirer. Only three weeks later, Doolittle resigned from the active duty Air Corps and went to work for Shell Oil. He retained a commission in the Reserves, and was, of course, back in uniform for World War II and further exploits.

Berliner-Joyce OJ

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The prototype XOJ-1 (A8359) seen at NAS Anacostia. Note the machine gun mounted in the upper wing. The hangars of the Air Corp’s Bolling Field are in the background. It was not unusual at the time for the Army and Navy to have a patch of ground they practically shared but were in fact distinctive and separate airfields. Those days are over; today the 100 year old facilities are known as Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling


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Two views of an immaculate OJ-2 (A9196) at Boeing Field. Aircraft was assigned to Naval Air Reserve Base Seattle just a few miles up the road.


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